You`re Not a Man Until You Come of Age

by Mark Riding

"Dawg, you really need to try this tortellini. It's good, I mean really good." Derrick leaned over and spoke in a low, plane conversation voice.

"You eat it then. Nobody's stopping you."

"What's up with you? Where'd all this beeyatch-ness come from?"

"Fuck you Dink."

Derrick leaned further toward Erick and spoke under his breath. "Now you know I won't think twice about jacking you up right here on this plane. You know I have been known to shank folks. You ever get shanked with a plastic fork?" he curled his lip in mock anger, and taunted with his eyebrows. There was a few beats of silence, then Derrick raised his eyebrows again and pointed his little plastic fork in Erick's direction.

"Stop that shit, I'm serious man. I don't feel like playing with you." Erick turned his head away and tried to focus on his ugly mood but relented to his own small laughter when his brother started poking him lightly with the fork.

"Dink man, one of these times I'm gonna fuck you up. Why don't you just let me pout?" he murmured.

"And ruin my plane ride? I believe you must be high. Is you high? Well is you? High that is?" He overemphasized his thick country mutter.

"Damn I hate you." Erick said between chortles.

"What's up for real Dawg, why the hanging lip?"

"I'm just not feeling this trip man, I don't know but I'm just not feeling it." Erick fidgeted in his seat.

"What? We've been going away every year for our birthday since before college. The only two we've missed was this past year and after 9/11 when they made our damn birthday 'The national day of mourning.' That was messed up too, why does all of America have to mourn on my birthday?"

"You're right they really should be mourning this September 12. Fucking thirty."

"Effing thirty?! Are you serious? Boo hooty hoo hoo I'm turning thirty my life is over, the world should pity me. You fo sho you ain't high? Cuz you sho sounds high. And more importantly why aren't you sharing the stuff man. Hook your only brother up when you smoke some ooh wee."

"Dink I'm for real. I mean damn, this whole year is going to be the absolute worst."

"Look drama boy if you're not high maybe you need to be. Maybe then you'll make some damn sense. But I'll indulge you. Tell me how turning thirty is so much worse than say 2001 when, by the way, thousands of innocent people had just been killed, and America came to a screeching halt, collapsed with terror?"

"See when you put it all like that you make me sound like a little whiny bitch. Fuck it joe. You obviously don't get it anyway. I mean I didn't mean to make it like last year wasn't a tragedyjust drop it. Eat your tortellini; forget it, you wouldn't get it anyway. This kinda shit never bothers you."

"Can I offer you gentlemen something else to drink, a cocktail perhaps?" Kylie smiled and leaned in on the tail end of Erick's statement.

"Uh yeah bring usum you have any cognac? Maybe some Hennessey on that cart sweetheart?" Derrick said instantly adjusting his volume from private brotherly tones to overtly flirty ones.

"I'm not drinking no damn nasty ass Hennessey so you can just forget that. I don't need anything to drink miss, thank you though." Erick snapped, and then became sternly polite.

"Oh he's just a little nervous, last time he drank on a plane he wet himself." Derrick whispered loudly. "But he will be drinking something. I'll just make sure we get him up to the little boy's room just before we land." Derrick punctuated his joke with a wink.

"Are you sure I can't offer you something sir?" Kylie smiled and nodded brightly pretending to be charmed. Erick started to snap a resounding "I said, no!" but his brother poked him with the fork again and he again relented to laughter. "Ok I'll have something, what kind of vodka do you have?"

Erick drank three Smirnoff screwdrivers and ate his cold plate of pasta. He was pulling the cellophane wrapper off a large butter cookie when he leaned over to Derrick who was starting to drift off.

"DinkDink, how do you feel about all this?" he low toned.

"Feel about all what? And why is it that you want to get all talkative now that I've got a nice mellow nap going anyway?" Derrick mumbled back.

"How do you feel about this year? I mean this birthday in particular. Doesn't it bother you just a little? I don't know how this kinda stuff doesn't ever seem to bother you."

"What kind of stuff? Why would turning thirty bother me? I'm in my prime. Plus this means I'm officially not a kid anymore. I can put away my childish things."

"That's what I'm talking about we're not kids anymore. We can no longer make excuses about anything. We have to act like grown ups now."

"Erick what the hell are you talking about? You've been a grown up since 8th grade. Mr. Responsible Jr. Counselor."

"See I told you, you don't ever understand this kind of stuff."

"What kind of stuff? You ain't sayin' nothin'."

"I am saying something; you're just not hearing me. I'm trying to tell you that I'm not feeling this. Any of it; turning 30, getting old, life changing, having to make real decisions now. I mean I don't even own a single family home yet, but still I bought that expensive ass car. I actually borrowed money against my savings to pay for this trip because I let you talk me into first class. These aren't the choices a 30 year old should be making."

"Now I know you really must be drunk because you sound just plain stupid. First number one, you make all kinds of money, and have investments out the whazoo so you should only be flying first class. Two, you bought a damn Volvo that will outlive our grandkids. And borrowing against your savings? You'll probably live broke for six months to pay yourself back anyway. Plus you do own a home. Two for that fact of the matter, your condo, and what do you call that big house you're collecting all that rent money from?"

"I call it Gran's house and I don't own that we do."

"But you look after it and pay the mortgage and collect all the rent, so that's your house. And what difference does it make that you don't have a single family home? You're single and don't even have a family so a condo seems fitting to me. If you want a big house to live in all by yourself so bad then kick Mr. Doefield out and move into Gran's house."

"I only do all that stuff because you moved to Philly, and you know I couldn't live with the karma of throwing some old man out on the street."

"I don't know what all this is about then. You are just making things harder than they have to be, as usual. Your life is pretty damn good. Our lives are pretty damn good. And we're just turning thirty. Plus we're about to get on this island, drink ourselves pissy, and get you an arbitrary piece to take your mind of how terrible it is being young and successful and devilishly handsome."

"You know I don't want any arbitrary ass."

"That's it. Finally. You're coming out aren't you? I've always had my suspicions. Ever since you said that you thought Richard Poe should have been Prom king because, and I quote 'he's so much cuter than Billy Freeman.' You're all upset about turning 30 because now you feel that you can no longer hide your longing to wear man clogs, and go antiquing."

"Fuck you Dink. And you know I never said that shit about Richard Poe either. I said that Billy was ugly and dumb as a stump and didn't deserve to be king is what I said."

"Same thing sugar pants."

"Fuck you. I think you're the one who's in the closet Dinkie Pooh. Who ever heard of a grown ass man named Dinkie Pooh? I think you're the one who shops on the softer side of Sears."

"Oh Erick, you're just projecting. Poor thing, my own brother ashamed of who he is. There's nothing wrong with being gay Erick. I'm aghast at your language as well. Tsk tsk, such expletives, and to your own brother no less. You're a sick man, a sick sick, gay gay man."

"I'm not gay!" Erick raised his voice way too loudly for plane conversation. He sensed that he'd drawn the attention of the cabin and looked around guiltily. After a silent twenty seconds or so he spoke up, this time in a more private hushed tone of voice. "Ok for real do I really come off gay?"

"Erick man just go to sleep you're obviously trippin'."

"Dink man how much of your twenties do you regret?"

"None of it. I was the man in my twenties."

"Seriously you have no regrets? What about college don't you regret taking so long to finish?"

"Nope. Finished didn't I?"

"What about Erica and the baby?"

"I knew you were about to go there. I don't regret that either. She's the one that lied. She's the one who was fucking around and got pregnant then tried to pawn the kid off on me. I had a daughter that I loved for almost two years and then that bitch wants to come at me with the truth? Well fuck her. Brynn has a father, he's not me and I refuse to get all caught up in it. You'll never see me on Mauri Povich."

"You miss her?"

"Who Brynn? Man, I can't let myself miss her. She's not my daughter anymore. I can't even stand to think of her duplicitous whore of a mother so there is no reason for me to get myself all worked up missing the whore's kid. Ex-wife, ex-kid." There was a long silence. Derrick reached up and turned the fan on and the light off.

"I don't know man, I just think back on everything I did in my twenties and I just feel like I missed out on so much. I wanted so many more things, you know? We were supposed open a little bistro on South Street, I should have been married by now, I wanted to get a Master's Now I feel like I'm just behind in all my plans." Erick looked over at his brother; Derrick was looking out of the window and breathing deeply through his nose.

"Folks, from the flight deck, we should be on the ground in about 20, 25 more minutes. Uh, sunny skies, a little hazy. Temperature ... temperature's, ah, 77 degrees. Wind's out of the west around ten miles per hour. Certainly 'ppreciate you choosing us for your travel needs today. Hope you enjoyed the flight. Hope you come back and travel with us again. This time we'd like to ask our flight attendants to please prepare the cabin for arrival. Also ask you all to check the security of your seatbelts. Thank you."

Erick reached down and slipped his shoes back on, packed up his novel, checked to make sure his luggage claim tickets were still stapled to his boarding pass envelope, and eased his seat to the full and upright position. "Dink push your seat up we're about to land." Derrick didn't move, he was someplace else and barely heard his whining ass brother. Erick could fuck up a wet dream. He was always so fucking pessimistic, the glass was not only half-empty but dirty as hell and probably tainted with salmonella. Always fucking something up. Just like in high school. Erick had to always be the fucking geek. Whiny ass voice, tight high water pants, a fucking retard. How many times did he have to defend that punk ass boy in school?

"What's wrong with him? He's a nice kid."

"He's just not my type, I mean look at how he dresses and he's so young acting."

"Listen Krista you ain't so mature yourself. Ain't nothing wrong with my brother, he may look like a geek but he's alright."

"Dag Dinkie, I didn't mean anything by it. I'm just saying he's not really my type that's all."

"Well what is your type then?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? You don't know but you know it's not Erick. That's messed up 'bout you."

"No Dinkie for real, I don't mean that I mean, I don't know I just like something different. A little bit taller and you know you know cooler actingI don't know maybe I could like Erick if he was, more like you."

"Aww yeah, for real? Like me huh?"

"Yeah Dinkie for real, for real? You got it goin' on. What happened to Erick?"

That wasn't the only fine girl that Derrick couldn't get with because of his retarded brother. It was shit like that that made him go away to school in Texas in the first place. He should have never come back home. The plane bucked a little. Derrick had been carrying that punk for a whole thirty years come Thursday. Now he was going to have to stay bent over drunk the whole goddamn trip just to feel like he was having a good time. He looked around for that flight attendant; maybe he could get one last quick drink before they landed. The plane lurched and bucked again, a little more violently, shaking Derrick's head. "Dink did you feel that, you think everything is ok?" Erick nudged his brother. Whining ass punk. Making some damn routine turbulence something else to cry about. The plane lurched hard to the right and dropped suddenly making Derrick's stomach drop like on a roller coaster. Then the noise. A piercing whine, no actually deeper like a train whistle but more earsplitting. The plane bucked and lurched and shook spasmodically. The brothers grabbed at their armrests and braced themselves.

The plane wobbled, the big gray wings almost flapping. The train whistle became a high hum that vibrated through the passenger's skulls. The oxygen masks dropped from the overhead space and dangled, teasing the fear paralyzed passengers like a baby's mobile, and panicking the rest. Then the water rose up to meet the plane's nose with an explosive crash, drowning the cockpit; then its full belly smacked the hard saltwater surface and cracked. Water rushed in.

Erick unbuckled, found his life vest and snapped the closure, he stood up, the plane was rocking and felt very unstable under his feet. Derrick yanked his life vest from beneath his seat and scrambled to his feet. The plane's nose was completely submerged and cracked away from the body. The body had flattened on the surface. Floating. Derrick felt like everything was in slow motion and he had no peripheral vision at all. The air was too hazy to see through; he started toward the front but got spun around, disoriented. He felt for seat backs to guide his way. He felt people scrambling all over and around him-arms, legs, hair, then there were gaps where there would have been seats, he couldn't see anything. Where the hell did Erick go so fast? "Erick! Erick where the hell are you?" He was choking on his own heartbeat, terrified and functioning purely on adrenaline. "Dink come on!" Derrick stumbled toward the voice, stepped down into something soft and lost his footing. He fell on top of a woman contorted on the floor. "Come on Dink! It's right here." Erick was trying to buffalo through the gang of passengers wedging into the emergency door. Derrick got to his knees and shook the woman hard like a parent disciplining a child. "Come on lady wake the fuck up!" She didn't move. Erick worked his way back and grabbed his brother by the arm, "Come the fuck on Dink! Fuck her or we're gonna be dead too!" "I don't know if she's dead!" Derrick shook her angrily then scrambled to his feet dragging the woman with him. He held the lady up against his body under his right forearm and pulled the cord on his life vest with his left hand. Then he hoisted the lady over his shoulder and wobbled up the slight incline toward the door opening. People were still stumbling and forcing their way out-arms, legs, hair everywhere. Erick was leading and pushed hard into the back of a fat man who was shoving on two other people in the door opening. Derrick was leaning into Erick's back trying to stay upright with the woman's dead weight on his shoulder. Erick staggered out the door and fell directly into the water. There were lots of people already out bobbing and flailing, swimming frantically away from the plane, their puffy yellow life vests making their strokes clumsy. Plane flotsam was floating about them everywhere-bobbing luggage, broken overhead doors, seat cushions and bits of the plane's metal skin all around them. Derrick jumped out of the plane and into the water losing his grip on the woman when he hit the waves. He reached around and grabbed at her as she was sinking away. He pulled the lady's head above water, rolled over onto his back and tried not to choke her as he rolled her over as well. Erick grabbed at a bobbing cushion, kicked over to his brother and helped him prop the lady onto it. Then they both started a one armed crawl away from the plane's sinking carcass with the unconscious, perhaps dead lady between them.

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